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Freaks Welcome In Ed Wood

Tim Burton’s 1994 Opus Uncompromising and Irrepressible

By Amandeep Loomba

staff writer

Rental Advisory is a regular column that aims to guide you in your weekly selection at the video store (Hollywood Express, not Blockbuster; or if you must, NetFlix). By distilling each film to a single moment of importance, the column aims to present the sort of economical viewing strategy that time-strapped MIT students are forced to employ in their film appreciation.

I’m not too sure where my freak flag is these days. I certainly haven’t flown it in a while. Perhaps it’s wrapped up in storage somewhere, or maybe it got tossed out in last semester’s move. Now that I’ve remembered it, I must say that there is a part of me that really misses it.

On the other hand, there is the part of me that’s moved on. The part of me that walked out on the freak-show a long time ago. And though the freak-show is pretty willing to let anyone in, I’m not sure I’ll ever be going back.

Tim Burton’s Ed Wood is easily one of the freak-friendliest films out there. Unlike those sophomoric geek melodramas such as the Revenge of the Nerds films, Ed Wood makes real characters out of its freaks and weirdoes.

Wood himself, magnetically played by Johnny Depp, is the supremely irrepressible loser. And in spite of the utter crap he slung onto the screen in his filmmaking days, you really gotta love the guy. In fact, you gotta love him and his whole carnival sideshow of friends. Together, they put together some of the worst films ever made, and they had a freaking great time doing it.

Watching the film, you can’t help but be at once repulsed and entirely engaged by Wood dressed as a belly-dancer entertaining his film crew at the wrap party for Bride of the Atom. It’s not one of the strangest moments ever committed to film, but it is the sort of moment that makes you shift a bit in your seat and wonder if this really ever happened. When he concludes the dance by pulling out his false teeth with a grand flourish, the crowd goes wild, and you’re left wondering what the most appropriate way to react to this is.

In the end, you’re in one of two camps. That is, you’re either with the freaks or against them. Sarah Jessica Parker, playing Ed’s girlfriend Dolores, figures out at just this moment that she’s really not with the freaks. Out comes the tirade against them:

“You people are insane! Take a look around! You’re all freaks! You’re wasting your lives making shit! Nobody cares! These movies are terrible! I can’t take it any longer!”

The room fills with incredulous looks as Dolores storms out. The expressions on the faces of these delicate oddities of society fall somewhere between “Did she really just say that?” and “Are we really freaks?”

Such is the confused reaction whenever the freak receives the jarring blow of conformist rage. Imagine that guy in front of you in the Infinite Corridor. You know, the barefoot one with the cape and miniature computer display attached to his head. Now remove him from our “freaks welcome” MIT atmosphere and place him on the street of a Brooklyn neighborhood. Or better yet, send him to a small town in Midwestern America. The result is culture shock, likely to be followed by physical assault.

What to do in such a situation? Should you let your freak flag fly, or fold? I’ll tell you one thing: Ed Wood never let his freak flag fold. It’s Wood’s resilience that makes this film so darn enjoyable. No matter what critics or horse-faced crybabies like Sarah Jessica Parker said, he kept his freak on.